The Northeast is known for lots of things: massive snowfall that cripples your ability to think and makes you cold and depressed for weeks on end to the point where you look at the sky and start screaming at God... and blueberries. Great blueberries. But it's also a cauldron of creativity when it comes to brewing beer, thanks to a long history of craft innovation. To that point, I've selected the 16 breweries I think put out the best, most creative, highest quality beers in the region. After all, you've got to have something to drink with those blueberries.
The undisputed masters of Belgian styles have done more to elevate the status of American beer than many outside the Northeast will ever realize. Their beers can get as complex as the annual Confluence or as approachable as their year-round Saison, making them at once a traditional, innovative, and reliable brewery that never seems to fail.
Any discussion of craft brewery monster success stories could not possibly be complete without the Alchemist. Even after becoming famous as the “East Coast Russian River Brewing” for their hop-bomb Heady Topper cans, their lineup still has incredible depth with beers like Beelzebub imperial stout and Focal Banger IPA. It’s worth braving the epic lines to be able to see what all the buzz is about.
Say what you will about the borough itself, but Brooklyn’s namesake brewery has had a big year, helping to launch a sister brewery in Sweden and bringing even more bottle-conditioned beers to the limelight. Their quarterly Brewmaster releases keep their innovation game up (especially with the recent Quadraceratops), and heavy hitters like Black Ops have a rabid fanbase (even if that beer technically “doesn’t exist”), thanks in no small part to brewmaster Garrett Oliver’s unique methods and flavor tendencies.
Bostonian beer geeks had a collective panic attack when Trillium was forced to close for a few weeks in late 2014 due to a licensing snafu. But they’re back at it with solid beers, like Fort Point Pale Ale and Pot & Kettle porter, pouring out of their draft rooms and select lines throughout Beantown. After only a couple of years in operation, they’re already so popular that they’ve just announced construction of a second brewing facility in Canton, MA.
If you grew up East of the Mississippi, chances are Dogfish Head 60 Minute was your first craft beer experience, but the Dogfish still has new tricks, releasing new, cutting-edge beers year after year, whether they’re inspired by jazz greats (Bitches Brew) or urns found in an ancient tomb (Midas Touch). They’re basically the brewery incarnation of that interesting high school friend that you actually want to keep in touch with.
Once you’ve sampled one of Tree House’s beers, it’s usually hard to believe that they’re so young. They cover everything from hop-heavy (Julius IPA) to dark and roasty (That’s What She Said stout) in their tight lineup. Their strong reputation and their weekend growler-filling lines are enough for some to start dubbing Tree House the Alchemist of Massachusetts.
When they opened in 2011, Jack’s Abby’s position as a “lager only” craft brewery was the antithesis to the IPA craze driving the craft beer movement. But in the few short years since opening, they’ve racked up more than enough awards and public support to prove they were right to go against the grain, forging a trail with beers like Hoponius Union IPL and Framinghammer Baltic Porter.
As far as beer is concerned, Brian Strumke is the pride of Baltimore. His globe-trotting, gypsy brewing antics will continue to spring some of the most exciting beer collaborations for the foreseeable future. Very few breweries in the Mid-Atlantic have garnered as much praise as his, which is responsible for Cellar Door (an American farmhouse ale brewed with sage), Gose Gone Wild, and the very drinkable Classique, a post-Prohibition-style ale.
It wasn’t until relatively recently that gypsy brewer Jeppe Jarnit-Bjergsø set down roots in Brooklyn with Tørst, but he’s been winning over beer fanatics for years. His crazy collaborations and unique one-offs are as compelling as his mainstay beers, including Nomader Weisse, Falco, and Molotov Cocktail. Rarely will you browse a world-class beer list without coming across at least one Evil Twin brew.
Even though Lawson’s is in the difficult position of being in a state where two of the most adored craft breweries already hold most of the attention, they’re still a top local favorite simply because their beers are awesome: from their Maple Stout through their Double Sunshine IPA, everything remains memorably great. Of course, you still have to be lucky enough to be able to get your hands on a bottle to verify that for yourself...
Greensboro Bend, VT
Arguably the Northeast’s holiest of holies, the rarest of the rare, Hill Farmstead’s reputation has skyrocketed to global admiration in a very short amount of time. Everything they make, from saisons and stouts to pale ales and porters, is received as practically perfect. Even without easy access to their beers, their rabid following is second to none amongst beer nerds.
If you’ve spent time drinking beer in Connecticut, there’s almost no way you haven’t come across at least one of New England Brewing’s brightly colored cans. Their 668 Neighbor of the Beast and Imperial Stout Trooper have kept them on critics’ lists for years, and recent expansion across New York State and New England has their list of fans growing.
Victory is popular for their year-round offerings like Prima Pils, but it’s in their limited releases and one-offs where they really begin to shine. Their single-hop Ranch series, Belgian-style one-offs like Moving Parts IPA #3, or barrel-aged beers like Oak Horizontal prove there’s a lot going on for them outside of cut-and-dry traditional styles.
Smuttynose has a reliable following, thanks mostly to their consistently solid recipes and spot-on seasonals. The opening of Smuttlabs has elevated their game even further, giving them room to experiment with weird styles and one-offs that always seem to hit the mark.
The unsung hero of the New York beer scene is usually lauded around fall for their popular pumpkin beer, Pumking. But like any good dark horse, they’re able to keep things fresh with incredibly solid year-round offerings like Live and eye-opening seasonals like Old Man Winter.
Getting lucky enough to snatch up a fresh bottle of Lunch or Peeper should be all the proof you need that Maine Beer Co. is a top-tier brewery, but why stop there? Mean Old Tom, King Titus, Zoe, MO, Lil One... each brings even more cred to an already crowded cred-table for this brewery.